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Publisher’s Position: Board Trying to Stifle Free Speech

By Steve Hunley

For any person who values free speech, recent actions by the Knox County Board of Education are cause for deep concern. Superintendent Jim McIntyre is always braying about “great conversations” and “wonderful dialogues,” but that is for public consumption; the reality is quite different.
Board member Karen Carson apparently had an epiphany last week and came to the astonishing conclusion the board hasn’t been following its own policies.  This is hardly news to anyone as the board has rarely followed its own rules and policies unless it was attempting to punish fellow board member Mike McMillan.  McMillan is the board member who is the most vocal opponent of the McIntyre reign and a constant irritant to his colleagues.
Carson is now urging the board to enforce a policy which would require school employees (i.e. teachers) to follow a circuitous route through the Byzantine labyrinth of the chain of command in writing before they could approach the board to speak at public forums.  Carson claims this would allow the board to see just where there might be lapses in the flow of information through the chain of command. Right. McIntyre himself has been caught more than once of keeping things from the board. So I doubt very much Carson is as interested in the chain of command as she is in stifling free speech.
The effect of forcing teachers and other employees to go through a process more complicated than a corn maze. Keeping them quiet and out of public view is the ultimate goal.  That same process has the effect of suppressing all such criticism and complaints.
Two speakers before the board last week, Dr. Rapheal Crawford and James Dunn, a Hall High School student, were both strongly urged not to appear before the board.  Not coincidentally both of them made remarks highly critical of McIntyre and his administration.
Board Chair Lynne Fugate, now safely reelected, imperiously gaveled down teachers in the audience who had the temerity to applaud some remarks made by Mike McMillan.  Ms. Fugate then arrogantly reminded the teachers it was not their meeting, but the board’s meeting.  Lest anyone forget and hope that this is an isolated incident, some board members have suggested that perhaps the board should regulate teachers’ use of Facebook and other social media on their own time.  There is a clear pattern by the majority of the board and the McIntyre administration to silence its critics.
The local media has done its best to ignore actions by the board and McIntyre to silence their opposition.  Of course had this same thing occurred on any other public body, the local media would have been after it like a shark after a bleeding seal.  The mighty News Sentinel has been cravenly silent on the issue, which readers should remember the next time the daily newspaper publishes a blazing editorial defending free speech.
Dr. Crawford, a highly respected and esteemed educator, flatly charged he couldn’t even get McIntyre on the phone and was told by an underling the superintendent doesn’t speak to principals individually.  This in spite of the fact Crawford was recruited by McIntyre to come here and work as a principal. Evidently McIntyre has all kinds of wonderful dialogues, just not with his own appointees.
The board has never been bothered by whether some action was legal or not and my guess is they will find any attempt on their part to enforce a rule or a policy at variance with the Constitution will be struck down and quickly.
If they think folks not being able to speak their minds in public is going to add some luster to McIntyre’s already  diminished reputation, they are mistaken.  With every passing day, it becomes more clear that Jim McIntyre is, as the old Texas saying goes, all hat and no cattle.

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